A living room scene; a coffee table with a woven wooden tray filled with fall decorations

Third grade was a banner year for me.

I learned how to walk my hands all the way down the brick wall on the side of the school until I ended up in a back bend.

I won the contest for walking the farthest around the edge of the playground while hula hooping.

I came in second in the school multiplication bee (total aside:  I lost on 12 x 13).

No one ate paste in our class anymore.

And I discovered how to paint-by-number.

A white porcelain pumpkin sitting on a wooden tray

Painting by number was almost like a miracle.

You opened the package and there was a blank canvas full of circles and squiggles with numbers on them.  It came with a set of paints with correlating numbers and all you had to do was match the numbers up with the paint colors and start painting and before you knew it all of those lines and zigs and zags….

….became a horse.

You couldn’t mess it up.

Well….except if you got tired of all the highlights and the 15,000 shades of brown on the horse and you just added some eyes and painted the horse face one color brown and the sky blue and called it a day.

Close enough.

But that is not even the point of this whole analogy.  The point is….you had an outline and a formula and a strategy.

And if you just stuck to the plan….

…..you ended up with art every time.

An all white and light cream kitchen seen; on the counter is a metal tray with white pumpkins

It’s just like adding trays to your decor.

It’s easy, if you know where you are going.


So today we’re going to paint-by-number it…..

…..with four simple tips for decorating with trays.

(total aside:  just in case you were wondering, these random pictures have one thing in common….they have a tray meant to inspire you).

A master bedroom scene; in between two vintage reading chairs is a dark stained wooden coffee table with a wooden tray filled with decorative pumpkins and pinecones

1.  Start with a tray

Now….don’t let the word tray define you.

Think outside the tray box.

A tray could be a basket or over-sized white platter or cutting board or sometimes it could actually mean tray.

The point is that you want to start with a flat surface with raised edges.

A wooden serving tray with vintage fall decorations

Step 2:  Add height

Start with your tallest item first.

Here….I used a wire cloche.  You could also begin with an armillary or pedestal with a pumpkin or a globe or wreath on a stand.

You get it.

You understand (because you are brilliant like that).

This is like the part of the paint-by-number with the most paint.

A woven wood try decorated with metal spheres and white dishesStep 3:  Add texture

I know….this random driftwood ball…while totally amazing and full of texture…..is not rolling around everyone’s house.

This is an over-exaggerated example of texture.

Instead, you could add in branches or wood with a beautiful patina or wicker or metal.

When you add texture, it’s like adding character.

Texture is just like the highlights and lowlights of the paint-by-number.

(total aside:  please tell me  you love this analogy as much as I do).

A white washed wooden tray decorated with books, a white vase with purple flowers, and a metal globeStep 4:  Add space

This is the icing on the cake.

You want to either add a piece with space (like this armillary) or simply add space around your arrangement.

If you added a large bulky piece to this tray, it would overwhelm the vignette on the table.

Allowing for a little light and airiness with the display….lets your decorations blend in seamlessly with their environment.

This is just like the white space that provides definition in the paint-by-number.

A fall themed woven wood serving tray with decorative pumpkins, wooden blocks and books

It’s been a while since I tried a back bend.

Or hula hooped around the playground.

But adding fun displays to my coffee table by decorating with trays….

…I got this.

Oh….and 12 x 13 is 156. 🙂

PS  In case you haven’t gotten a chance to stop by….my Joss and Main event is live.

Wait until you see all the farmhouse pieces (even the chandelier from my kitchen).

Click here to see the sale.

Four simple tips for decorating a room with trays

And now….I’m so happy to be joining some of my favorite bloggers sharing their tray decorating tips today.

diy tips and tricks

For more inspiration be sure and check out the links below:

Want to know how to decorate your home for free?
Click here to get my FIVE BEST secrets.


  1. Image for Lori H Lori H

    Love the tips and the photos! Is it just me or do you have two #2's? Doesn't matter, it just threw me as I was looking for #3!

  2. Image for Marisa Franca @ All Our Way Marisa Franca @ All Our Way

    I love how your mind works -- it's like a wonderful maze and you know that in the end you'll reach a wonderful surprise or the very least you'll escape all the twists and turns. Yes! I followed each and every turn easily and I am so inspired to try out the technique! Now to scrounge up a tray somewhere -- hummmmmmm!! I think there is one at your hostess event at Joss and whoever. Yep -- think I'll hurry on back :-)

    1. Image for Thistle Wood Thistle Wood

      LOL! (hangs head in embarrassment). You are so right. Thanks for the reminder! I just fixed it. :) karianne

  3. Image for cheapdiva cheapdiva

    So . . . Did I miss a post on how to "paisley" a pumpkin? Or how to make the wood ball or wreath in the background? I think in third grade (it was a long time ago!) I was pretty good with a jump rope.

  4. Image for Regina Regina

    Now I think you're just enjoying the use of a cool word like "armillary!" ;) Me? I use "autumnal" like it's going out of style starting every September. :) I've actually taught more people that word! Weird, huh? Writers . . . So, so cute!! I have a tray on a little cabinet in my kitchen that is, at present, holding my collection of Pioneer Woman Cookbooks (the pictures are SO PRETTY! And the recipes are good, too . . .), plus my trusty BHG red-and-white cookbook, and my copy of "The Merrick Cookbook" compiled by my husband's aunt, which is GREAT - has all the basic family recipes in it! But I'm thinking Christmas, having just been to Hobby Lobby, Kirklands (oh my, the crowd . . . the GLITTER!", Pier One, etc. . . . . I'm gonna decorate with that tray on my coffee table. Mark my words. Because you inspire me! Stay warm, my friend! It's COLD in Kentucky!! :)

  5. Image for Anita from Cedar Hill Farmhouse Anita from Cedar Hill Farmhouse

    My very favorite is the tray with the purple flowers. Bachelor buttons? I love the color, the height, and the lightness of the arrangement. I just saw a pro stylist in action at my house, and it was amazing what she whipped together just grabbing this and that. She really talked about needing an airy floral arrangement and yours is just perfect!!

  6. Image for Kris Kris

    Maybe you should write a "Decorating For Dummies" book. I know, I know, it's probably already out there ... but the kind of hints you give are so do-able for everyone, and that's really appealing. Now, to find me a tray ...

  7. Image for Sheila@mykentuckyliving Sheila@mykentuckyliving

    For some reason I cannot decorate or make a tablescape without trays. Not sure why, but I guess my love of/ collection of trays has something to do with it. Ha! I need some way to justify my wanting to keep adding to my collection! Ha? Love yours too! Sheila

  8. Image for Onalyce Onalyce

    Hi Kari! I am totally a trayaholic, if that is a thing. I even have ones hidden under my couch and in my storage shed. hope you and your family are well. I enjoy your blog.

  9. Image for Jane Jane

    I love trays but have to admit...I was a little lost on arranging pieces inside until now!! As always, thanks!! Wondering about that chair in your kitchen facing the wall...reminds me of your funny conference story about having your chair facing away from the stage! lol! Now you know I have a habit of studying pictures of your home! ;-) Jane x

  10. Image for barb barb

    Thank you for inspiring me this chilly early afternoon- I love my small(ish) collection of trays.... I have a tray dedicated to a wine bottle and pumpkin right now :)

  11. Image for Yvonne @ StoneGable Yvonne @ StoneGable

    I love your stories, Karrianne! And I loved painting-by-number too! My favorite was the cat. You did such a beautiful job designing a paint-by-number way to design a vignette in a tray! I love the textured wood ball... sorta looks like a weapon... a very chic on, that is!

  12. Image for Bethanie Bethanie

    Girl, I knew all along we were separated at birth. I'm a tray hoarder...I have them everywhere, and when their isn't room on the surface, I'll hang it on the wall!! PS. I never had the patience to do all the shading...I was totally the one who just painted it one color....(and couldn't figure out why it didn't look very good when I finished!)

  13. Image for Leslie Stewart @ House on the Way Leslie Stewart @ House on the Way

    I love trays and third grade was probably one of my least favorite years of school...that was the year that I got in trouble for talking during the morning announcements and was made to stand in the hallway. The worst part was that when you were seen standing in the hallway, everyone knew you had gotten in trouble! But I never talked during announcements again... Thanks for the tips on decorating trays...I'm pinning! Have a great weekend, Leslie

  14. Image for Jill @ Still Keeping On The Narrow Way Jill @ Still Keeping On The Narrow Way

    Other than the fact that I had to Google the word "armillary," I love this post! LOL! As my Mom always says, "You learn something new every day!" I've have gone tray crazy this past year. I love how they can add texture and interest to a room and can help keepsmall things corralled together as well. Thanks for the great tips KariAnne!

  15. Image for Rosanne Rosanne

    Love me a tray! Got them all of the house, my sis came over one day and asked " what's up with all the trays" I even have a board on pinterest dedicated to them.... I guess I like things corralled... (kids included)

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